Bernie Sanders calls for federal decriminalization of marijuana

While the Republican candidates were preparing to lash out in fear at relatively pedestrian questions about their tax plans and past statements, Bernie Sanders called for full decriminalization of marijuana at the federal level, which would allow states to regulate it the same way they regulate alcohol and tobacco.

Currently the federal government legally considers marijuana to be as dangerous as heroin, which Sanders (rightly) called “absurd.”

There are a lot of good arguments for decriminalizing marijuana. It cripples a black market; it raises tax revenue; it takes pressure off of our massive, bloated prison system. But perhaps most importantly, the criminalization of marijuana is part of a deeper system of racial injustice that has to be dismantled one piece at a time. As Sanders said, speaking at George Mason University:

Bernie Sanders speaking at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, via John Pemble / Flickr

Bernie Sanders speaking at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, via John Pemble / Flickr

Let us be clear, as is the case in many other areas, that there is a racial component to this situation. Although about the same proportion of blacks and whites use marijuana, a black person is almost four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than a white person. Too many Americans have seen their lives destroyed because they have criminal records because of marijuana use. That is wrong. That has got to change…A criminal record could include not only time in jail, but a criminal record makes it harder for a person to get a job, harder for a person to get public benefits, harder for a person to even get housing. A criminal record stays with a person for his or her entire life.

Later in the evening, John Kasich claimed during the Republican debate that legalizing marijuana was a bad idea because it sends kids “mixed signals about drugs.” Kasich then went on to send kids mixed signals about drugs, erroneously claiming that marijuana usage was dangerous due to the potential of overdose. It is chemically impossible to overdose on THC, the active chemical in marijuana.

Following the debate, Roger Stone, who recently quit Donald Trump’s campaign, called Kasich out for hypocrisy on the issue, claiming that he had fired Kasich from a campaign in 1976 for selling weed to his fellow staffers.

Rand Paul took the opportunity on the same question to echo Sanders, highlighting the racial disparity in marijuana law enforcement to argue that the issue should be left to the states.

(h/t Mother Jones)


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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18 Responses to “Bernie Sanders calls for federal decriminalization of marijuana”

  1. Guyzer says:

    6. your heart stops beating

  2. Guyzer says:

    Too bad Bernie is a filthy communist scumbag

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  4. BeccaM says:

    Aye, good points all. Back when I had access to it for treating my migraines (California MM program), I remember a couple of occasions being a bit more ripped than I would have liked, but nothing like a bad trip like the one Maureen Dowd recounted after she ate too much THC candy.

  5. mf_roe says:

    Yeah, that’s why it’s classified as a euphoric. Basing your analysis without direct experience has limitations. Fact is grass is used as a coping mechanism by many, the underlying circumstances of the users life must be accounted for when the value of Marijuana is measured. Many highly successful people use the drug, does that make it something we should supply freely?

  6. Bill_Perdue says:

    Both parties are steeped in racism, which today takes the form of utilizing drug laws to imprison millions from communities of color and the parallel refusal of the Obama regime to prosecute and arrest killer cops. http://www.southerncoalition.org/mass-incarceration-people-color/ T

    The economic effects of racism are worse than they’ve been in decades and so are the effects of institutionalized racism. “…since the Great Recession, we’ve seen plenty of alarming signs that suggest heightened biases: Schools have been resegregating in many areas, citizens of color face undue hurdles to vote, and affirmative action policies have been rolled back. An all-out war against public-sector jobs, mounted in the name of austerity, has disproportionately affected African-Americans. In 2010 black men were more than six times as likely as white men to be incarcerated, yet little has been done to address this. These factors have synergistic effects that, collectively, shackle African-Americans from access to political and economic power. http://america.aljazeera.com/opinions/2015/3/a-bad-economy-fuels-racism.html

    The combination of election year histrionics and Halloween causes many Democrats and their Republicans brothers and sisters to repetitiously comment on the importance of elections, promising change or pretending that if the other gang gets in that Hitler (Democrats) or Stalin (Republicans) will rise from the grave and take over the country. All that hysteria amounts to a quadrennial explosion of election year hyperbloviation.

    “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary. “H L Mencken

    It amounts to theatrics and has nothing to do with reality. Bill Clinton promised change and foisted dozens of Reagan policies on working people, taking aim at people of color – NAFTA, deregulation, de-unionization, gutting welfare, wars of aggression and a determined attack on people of color using drug laws. Bill Clinton and Bush continued Reagan polices. Obama promised change and is also continuing those policies.

    Voting, except for referendums, doesn’t change policy. Mass actions do.

    Voting for Democrats or Republicans has no bearing on how government operates. That’s an established fact, not an opinion. The polices of US governments, federal, state and local are determined by bribes and influence peddling.

  7. The_Fixer says:

    I don’t think that the booze industry has anything to worry about. And if their worst fears are realized, they could simply change their business plan and become suppliers of munchies.

    Problem solved.

  8. Mike_in_the_Tundra says:

    There’s good reason for the alcohol industry to oppose the legalization of marijuana, and it has.

  9. Mike_in_the_Tundra says:

    “Confusion, anxiety, inability to do simple mental and motor tasks”

    That would be a typical morning for me.

  10. Indigo says:

    Good point.

  11. BeccaM says:

    Tobacco is highly addictive and it causes cancer. Most reputable studies have indicated MJ does neither of these things and thus is self-evidently safer than tobacco.

  12. BeccaM says:

    Confusion, anxiety, inability to do simple mental and motor tasks…then eventually you fall asleep. At least that’s what I’ve been told.

  13. BeccaM says:

    MJ prohibition was enacted in 1937 specifically under racist rationales. A man named Harry Anslinger, head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (precursor to the DEA) famously said one of the main problems with weed, as he saw it was, “Reefer makes darkies think they’re as good as white men.” Later, he’d also say:

    “There are 100,000 total marijuana smokers in the U.S., and most are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos and entertainers. Their Satanic music, jazz and swing result from marijuana use. This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers and any others.”

    In the early 1900s, after the Mexican revolution, there was an influx of immigrants who of course brought with them their cultural practices — which included the use of MJ as both a medicine and a recreational drug. (Interestingly, most Americans had no idea that their patent medicines featuring the miracle ‘canabis’ compound derived from the same thing.) Basically, law enforcement fear-mongered the hell out it, demanding local (and later federal) laws which would allow them to arrest and search these immigrants. Much of the testimony provided to insist on passage of these laws would insist that one could become both homicidal and addicted for life after smoking just a single joint.

    Even today, despite the fact Caucasians use grass at a higher rate than African Americans, the latter group continues to suffer more arrests and imprisonment for possession than any others.
    (Source: http://www.latimes.com/opinion/opinion-la/la-oew-gutwillig7-2009sep07-story.html )

    The plain and verifiable facts are:
    (1) MJ does have some legitimate medical uses, despite the government’s claim since the 1930s that it has none whatsoever.
    (2) It actually makes people relaxed and usually more passive, despite the government’s claim it causes people to be more violent. As it turns out, recent studies have shown it’s remarkably effective at helping war veterans deal with PTSD symptoms, precisely due to the calming and tranquilizing effects.

    (3) There is absolutely no evidence it is as addictive as heroin or even nicotine. In fact, the studies performed to date have shown there is at most a psychological habituation, but absolutely no physical side effects when even a heavy grass user suddenly stops.
    (4) Tobacco undeniably causes cancer and heart disease. MJ, it seems, may actually have anti-cancer qualities, but of course further study is needed.

    In summary, there is absolutely no justification for MJ to be classified as a Schedule I drug, which is supposed to be reserved for those drugs which are inherently dangerous and have no medical use. Hell, Xanax and Valium, which are Schedule IV drugs, are far more addictive (including physical dependence) and far more abused than weed has ever been.

  14. Mike_in_the_Tundra says:

    Please explain what happens to somebody who overdoses. I can only think of a few things.

    1. You giggle nonstop for twelve hours.

    2. You eat twenty bags of chips.

    3. You cannot remember your name for 24 hours.

    4. You binge watch all five seasons of “Downtown Abbey”.

    5. You take a 10 hour nap.

  15. Knottwhole says:

    It is possible to overdose on marijuana.
    It just won’t kill you if you do.
    Overdose does not always mean death.

  16. Indigo says:

    There’s no “mixed signal” here. Marijuana is every bit as safe as or safer than tobacco and tobacco is legal. The absurdity of Marijuana Prohibition is painfully obvious. The only possible consequence over time of keeping it illegal is contempt for the law.

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